Thursday, December 17, 2015

On Veganism and Animal Rights

I am probably not the only person who has noticed that there are a greater than normal amount of critical articles about vegans and animal rights floating around on social media sites lately. Even among vegans and animal rights people, these articles seem to get more clicks and more comments (again, on the highly particular set of people in my social networks) than essays that try to set out a positive program of social/animal justice.

In any case, as it turns out, there are vegans and animal rights activists who harbour attitudes that are consciously or unconsciously racist, sexist, ableist, and/or classist. This does not surprise me, given that we live in a white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist society.

Before get to what I want to say, there's part of this debate or critique that seems counter-productive, because there are some people who are fighting about who has x,y or z biases or prejudices, when the best critical work focuses, in ways that are necessarily self-reflexive, on systems and institutions and how they produce individuals--in some way here, with more necessary caveats that I assume I need not list, I mean "produce us as us, whoever that may be"--with prejudices and privileges. 

All this to say, here's what I think: the case for animal rights entails a commitment to human rights. If that sounds too liberal or Kantian, I don't mind saying that the case for animal emancipation entails human emancipation. That's much closer to what I believe. But, if you've come to animal rights and you don't see how the two are connected, and that articulating the two together requires formulating demands for animal rights through dialogue with those who struggle as historically marginalized peoples, and that this will make the process of formulating demands and principles both messy but concrete, then you're an asshole.

But if you're not vegan and you care about animal rights, it turns out that I think that the case for human rights and commitment to the struggles of historically marginalized peoples also, somewhere down the line, entails a commitment to animal rights, and more specifically, direct duties to animals. 

So if you are committed to human rights or human emancipation (and what I'm about to say counts even more if you're one of those people who has been revelling in the that-will-show-those-santimonious-vegans schadenfreude), and you've read your Aristotle, and you know that in defining what makes us human rather than animal
the dominant trends in our culture have never been toward respect for the species as a whole but rather for what is considered to be quintessentially human--and this privilege and subject position have always been available only to a small subset of the human species (Matthew Calarco, Thinking Through Animals, p. 26),
and that this has made you conscious of how the so-called anthropological criteria for so-called species inclusion is at best politically fraught, tendentious, and contingent, and you don't see how this applies to animal rights, then you're an asshole, too.